Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory in Ukraine’s eastern Luhansk Oblast on Monday, after Ukrainian forces withdrew from the city of Lysychansk, their last stronghold in the oblast following the fall of its twin city Severodonetsk.
In a televised meeting on Monday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin that Russian forces were now in control of Luhansk. In turn, Putin answered that “The units that took part in active hostilities and achieved success and victory in the Luhansk direction should certainly rest and increase their combat capabilities”.
The Ukrainian General Staff had confirmed on Sunday that Ukrainian forces had withdrawn from Lysychansk, saying that continuing to hold out would result in “fatal consequences” in the face of superior Russian tube and rocket artillery, aviation, ammunition and personnel. According to the General Staff, withdrawal would “preserve the lives of Ukrainian defenders”, pledging that “We will be back and we will definitely win!”
Luhansk governor Serhii Haidai said on Monday that the withdrawal had been carried out to avoid an encirclement of Ukrainian forces in Lysychansk, telling the Associated Press that Ukrainian troops could have held on for a few more weeks but would have potentially paid too high a price.
“We managed to do centralized withdrawal and evacuate all injured,” Haidai said. “We took back all the equipment, so from this point withdrawal was organized well.”
The Ukrainian General Staff has since reported that in addition to focusing their efforts on advancing toward the line of Siversk, Fedorivka and Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast, Russian forces have intensified their shelling of the key Ukrainian strongholds of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, deeper in Donetsk.
Sloviansk authorities report that a Sunday rocket artillery attack on the city killed six people, including a 9-year-old girl, and injured 19 more. Kramatorsk was also hit by artillery rockets, although casualty reports have not been disclosed.
Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelensky acknowledged the withdrawal of Ukrainian forces from Lysychansk in his Sunday night address, saying that they would return:
“If the command of our army withdraws people from certain points of the front where the enemy has the greatest fire superiority, in particular this applies to Lysychansk, it means only one thing: We will return thanks to our tactics, thanks to the increase in the supply of modern weapons…
The fact that we protect the lives of our soldiers, our people, plays an equally important role. We will rebuild the walls, we will win back the land, and people must be protected above all else”
Following repeated scaling down of strategic goals in the face of Ukrainian resistance, Putin has made control of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts (comprising the Donbas region) the main goal of Russian forces in Ukraine, after establishing a land corridor between Crimea and territory administered by the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic. While Ukrainian forces have been conducting a counter-offensive in the south, it would appear that it will be some time before it can pose a serious threat to the Russian land corridor.